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Seven Ways Technology Is Making Holiday Shopping Easier (And Faster and More Fun)

Fast Company spoke with industry expert Ed McLaughlin, MasterCard’s Chief Emerging Payments Officer on what’s next for holiday shopping.

Seven Ways Technology Is Making Holiday Shopping Easier (And Faster and More Fun)

MasterCard is a technology company that has a long history of innovation. We pioneered the world’s first contactless and mobile payment solutions, and continue to bring to life safer, richer and more compelling shopping and payments experiences for consumers around the globe.

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Milk and cookies for Santa. Cards above the fireplace. Rudolph on TV. Some holiday traditions won’t change anytime soon, but this year, the shopping experience is getting faster, easier, and immeasurably cooler as retailers embrace next-generation technology. For a peek at what’s in store for shoppers, Fast Company spoke with industry expert Ed McLaughlin, MasterCard’s Chief Emerging Payments Officer.

Apple Pay

Perhaps the most buzzed-about innovation of the season is Apple Pay. While short-range, wireless NFC (Near Field Communication) payments have been around for a few years, Apple’s entry into the space has been identified by some as a “game changer.” Launched on October 20, Apple Pay’s contactless and in-app payment service is not only easier than fumbling for cash, it’s also far safer. “We’re constantly working to make the digital world more secure,” says MasterCard’s McLaughlin. “Not only does Apple Pay use our tokenization technology—which creates a unique ‘token’ out of your 16-digit personal account number—it also uses your fingerprint as a way to ensure that you’re actually there when a payment is made.” Within weeks of its launch, many retailers are already seeing a growing percentage of their regular transactions moving to Apple Pay.

Beacon Technology

iBeacons are miniature BlueTooth devices that send unique signals to anyone who has downloaded a store’s mobile app. Earlier this year, MasterCard used beacons as part of a scavenger hunt at Brooklyn’s annual Northside Festival. This holiday season, iBeacons promise to transform the shopping experience: guiding customers to specific stores, products, and promotions–as well as allowing retailers to create custom campaigns. Most amazing of all is the iBeacon’s incredible accuracy: They’re not just able to direct customers to a certain store but to a particular spot on a shelf.

Supercharged Retailer Apps

Stores have had their own apps for years, but now they’re becoming far more efficient and customer-friendly. If you’d rather not waste valuable shopping time waiting in line for lunch, Panera Bread’s app, for instance, lets customers sidestep the process. “Panera Bread’s app,” says MasterCard’s McLaughlin, “means that I can put in my complex sandwich order, pay for it, and then by the time I get to the store, there’s no waiting. I just pick up my food and go.”

Smart Windows

Adding a new twist to the phrase “window shopper,” New Zealand-based clothing retailer AS Colour recently launched a high-tech virtual stylist operating just outside its store. If a customer stands in front of a Smart Window and enters a bit of information – such as their gender – the technology analyzes their outfit and rates their choice of color and color combinations. Then it suggests new items that would suit them. “It’s about promoting engagement,” says McLaughlin. “This technology gives customers a way of engaging with merchants – and vice versa. It’s all about creating a more rewarding experience.” Customers are taking to the technology: Sales have risen 16 percent since the campaign started.

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Interactive Mirrors

Moving the mirror way beyond simple reflection, Burberry’s luxury stores feature mirrors which double as video screens. When a shopper picks up a selected item of clothing, an attached radio frequency chip triggers the screen to play exclusive content relating to that product; you might see information about how the sweater was made or a clip of the sweater as seen on a fashion runway. Still other retailers use augmented reality to show you what you would look like wearing the latest must-have item.

Touchscreen Kiosks

The next generation of in-store touchscreens has arrived. Customers can use them to do everything from checking how many units of a particular item remain available (two left, better act fast!), to answering specific questions about sizing (a medium is fine, thank you), to selecting preferred features (buttons vs. zippers), and carrying out product customization (“I’ll take in it turquoise!”).

Robot Assistants

The pants don’t fit? Instead of getting dressed, gathering your belongings, and heading back to the rack, at the Seattle-based Hointer Beta Store, you can tap on your mobile phone or in-store tablet, and a personal assistant robot shopper will deliver the new item to a designated dressing room within 30 seconds.

This article was authored by FastCo Works, Fast Company’s Content Studio.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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